Growing Fenugreek from seed

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A few months ago I thought I’d try to sow some dry Fenugreek seeds from the store as an experiment, and they thrived in a sunny spot in the garden during the winter and spring. Yesterday, as the plants were already exhausted, I pulled them up and sowed some beans instead.

Fenugreek seeds grow in pods, much like peas and beans, (though the pods are smaller, of course) and can be eaten both fresh and dry. The plant has many beneficial properties, among them lowering blood sugar and stimulating milk production in nursing mothers. The dry seeds can be soaked and made into hilbe spread, after the Yemenite tradition, and also added to soups and stews.

For more information on using Fenugreek, read here.

Coping with chicken loss

 

There are few things more painful to me as a chicken owner than the untimely loss of one of the flock. Our chickens are all lovingly hand-raised, and it’s enough to drive one mad when a sneaky predator gets past one’s defenses, or when a disease you can do little about makes its rounds in the coop.

Still, I guess that this knowledge, this acceptance of the fact that there will be some losses, is what enables us to bounce back and keep raising chickens.

From my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Losing animals is an inevitable part of raising them. No matter how careful and diligent you are, at some point you will have to deal with saying goodbye – and not just due to old age, either – to some members of your flock or herd. This is heartbreaking even if your animals were meant to end up as dinner at some point. So much more if you treat your livestock somewhat like pets. I remember one time years ago, crying and telling my husband I’d rather give it all up and never keep anything living but plants again.”

Spring, an exciting thing

I spent some time in the garden this morning (while I really should have been getting the house in order for Pesach, but never mind) and as you can see, the sage is in full bloom and the first beans are hopefully poking their heads up.

My tomato seedlings look a bit puny,but I hope they will improve as we get more sunlight hours.

Moreover, we already have our first two broodies of the season! So hoping for some chicks soon.

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Our neighbor’s dog has had a litter of puppies. My kids are delighted. Here you can see the mother dog looking on intently (but not at all in a hostile manner) as Israel is gently touching one of her babies.

The garden is coming to life!

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After a long time asleep, our trees are finally coming back to life! This week I was excited to see these beautiful snowy-white apricot blossoms. It is a young tree, only about 4-5 years old, but last year it bore excellent fruit. Other trees are stirring awake as well, the rosemary and sage are in bloom, and I have a bunch of tomato seedlings started indoors, from seeds we had never tried before, which promise especially large tomatoes (I don’t recall the exact name at the moment. It’s written on the packet). We ordered some and thought we might as well give it a go this year.

Overall, spring is here in earnest: a beautiful and exciting season, full to burst with juices of life but, alas, also of necessary chores such as getting the house in shape for Pesach, which prevents me from being outdoors as much as I would have liked in this glorious weather.

Getting the chicken coop ready for spring

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Check out my latest Mother Earth News post, about preparing the chicken coop for spring:

“Though we’re still in the deep of winter, days are beginning to lengthen and, at least around here, spring really seems to be just around the corner. The spring-like feeling is validated by the new grass – as winter is the green season here – and by the narcissuses and cyclamens that are beginning to pop up.

Our chickens pick up the cue of longer days and generally resume laying around February, even though it’s still cold. The young pullets hatched at the end of last season – say, September or October – are generally ready to start laying in February or March.”

With warmer weather, greens all around, and a steady supply of fresh eggs, I begin to look forward to a productive spring and summer for our little flock, with lots of eggs, new layers as last autumn’s little pullets mature, and of course the excitement of new chicks, which will probably begin arriving around late March or April.

Spring Chickens

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Yes, I know that it’s only the end of January; days are still short, nights are still cold (I hear you folks up north snorting at me with disdain… you don’t know what real cold is, you are saying), but fine days in winter feel like spring in Israel, with everything turning green and fresh and blooming, and chickens busily digging around among the new grass.

In the photo above you see two of our hens, quite happy to be turned out of their coop, which I was at the time cleaning out (a long-overdue practice). I spread some of the manure and rotten straw around our fruit trees, not working it into the ground but just on the surface to let it slowly sink in with subsequent rains.

We’ve had an up-and-down season with our chickens this year; many chicks, but also many losses to predators. We have acquired some few more nuggets of wisdom, I hope, and are ready to apply the lessons we learned now that our girls are picking up laying again. More on this topic in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We’ve always been big enthusiasts of free-ranging our backyard flock and, in fact, have practiced this for the larger part of our career as chicken owners. Recently, however, we had to rethink our strategy a bit due to the appearance of a particularly sneaky fox that started to make its way on our property at the most unexpected hours.”

Butter, eggs and food security

Last week my husband went grocery shopping and, though butter was on the list (as it always is) he came home without it. Upon my inquiry he told that plain simple unsalted butter was simply missing from the shelves, and there was nothing to be found but the fancy imported spreadable brands. This has lasted for some days now; butter, an important staple in our daily menu, is missing from the dairy aisle.

Of course, when there’s an overall abundance of food, it might not seem so very important. We can have toast with cream cheese instead of butter for breakfast. Butter can be replaced by coconut oil in baking. But in our culture, so used to affluence and to store shelves groaning under the weight of any food imaginable, it seems almost incredible that one might step out to get butter (or anything else, really) and find out that it’s not to be had.

I was born in a country where food deficit was the daily reality. There was no hunger, but it was common to walk into a store and find half its shelves empty, and make do with whatever was available. People stockpiled canned and dry goods and non-perishables; it was plain common sense.

Above: whole grains and pulses, stored in a tightly closed container, will remain in good condition for years and make a compact, useful, cheap and readily available food source. 

We might not like to hear it or even think of it, but a time may come – and not in the very distant future, either – when food is not as readily and abundantly available as it is today. Some products may become less common than they are now, on a temporary or permanent basis. Others may simply become more expensive. Either way, people who are opting to learn food security skills today will be the gainers.

Stockpiling is one valuable practice to be learned. It makes very good sense to have a nice stash of products that can be stored for a long time, rotating them every few months or so. Canned food, rice, beans and grain of all kinds, flour, yeast, salt, non-perishables such as soap and toilet paper, and much else, can make a nice safety cushion for emergencies or simply for lean times. We have lived largely off our pantry for months on end during several periods.

Growing your own wholesome, fresh food is the next big step. A productive vegetable garden and a chicken coop, even a very little one, contribute a lot toward the goal of food security. Even just having plenty of veggies and eggs can provide one with a variety of delicious meals. A couple of goats or a cow will further enrich the family’s diet. If we had a dairy animal now, we wouldn’t care if there is any butter at the store or not! I remember an egg deficit time a couple of years ago – we were lucky to have eggs from our chickens and so didn’t feel it at all. It might not happen soon, but I’m aiming to have a larger, more consistently productive vegetable garden, more chickens (and maybe other poultry), and dairy goats again.

Another thing to do would be to learn about foraging and which sources of wild-growing food are commonly available in your area. It can be berries, fruit, herbs, mushrooms, and much else. Always play safe and only consume what you know for sureto be edible.

If you are just beginning to learn about food security, I heartily recommend perusing the writings of Jackie Clay, a homesteader with many years of experience under her belt, and a real powerhouse of optimism, cheerfulness, resourcefulness and determination. You can start by looking up Jackie’s articles on the Backwoods Home Magazine archive, reading through the Ask Jackie archive, and visiting her blog.